Which school soccer applications have been the most important underachievers over the previous 30 seasons?


Georgia is the inspiration for the underachiever tiers.

The final 40 years in school soccer have featured some shocking droughts, together with prolonged lulls with out convention championships for former powers Tennessee (1998), Nebraska (1999), Miami (2003) and Michigan (2004), and well-positioned applications equivalent to Texas A&M (1998) and UCLA (1998). However I maintain coming again to Georgia, a job many coaches think about the nation’s finest and definitely within the top-five, however hasn’t gained a nationwide title since 1980, the yr earlier than I used to be born.

How does a program with Georgia’s pure benefits go 4 a long time with out successful all of it?

There are specific applications in school soccer that simply can not seem to break via, not less than not just lately, regardless of some inherent traits (location, historical past, assets) that set them up for achievement. These are the groups that always immediate questions like, “Why cannot they win their league?” or “What occurred to them?”

Not each underachiever needs to be anticipated to win a nationwide title, and even to contend often for league titles or main bowl video games. However there are teams of groups that needs to be attaining greater than they’re.

I’ve recognized six tiers of underachievers, specializing in outcomes from 1981 to 2020, however putting larger emphasis on the previous 15-20 years.

Apart from Georgia, groups which have made the Faculty Soccer Playoff don’t seem. I’ve additionally excluded any nationwide title winners previously 15 seasons.

Tier I: The Dawghouse


Full disclosure: I am typing this whereas sporting a Georgia hat. I purchased it throughout a 2018 journey to cowl a sport towards Tennessee, my first-ever fall go to to Sanford Stadium. It was superb. Everybody ought to see a sport between the hedges. Georgia has all of it — the stadium, the fan base, the funds, the city, the entry to expertise, the SEC. And but a nationwide championship continues to elude the Bulldogs.

Since 1980, when Herschel Walker helped the Vince Dooley-coached Bulldogs to a 12-0 report and a consensus nationwide title, Georgia has been maddeningly unable to achieve the game’s pinnacle. The Bulldogs got here so shut in 2017 earlier than Tua Tagovailoa broke their hearts in Atlanta, and might need gained all of it in 2012 in the event that they bought previous Alabama within the SEC title sport. However Georgia went 20 years with out an SEC title, from 1982 to 2002, and owns just one league championship since 2005 (the Bulldogs do have six East Division titles since then).

They’ve clearly been shut: Six AP top-10 finishes between 2002 and 2007, and 6 extra since 2012 (together with 4 consecutive top-seven finishes below coach Kirby Sensible getting into the 2021 season). However the lack of ability to win only one nationwide championship is baffling.

“It is simply one thing about that place,” a former Georgia assistant instructed me. “It is a robust deal, however I feel Georgia’s the very best job within the nation, interval.”

Most coaches would line as much as take Sensible’s job, if out there. Georgia is the flagship program in a high talent-producing state, positioned barely an hour from the Atlanta recruiting hub. Apart from LSU, no SEC energy is best positioned to dominate a area in recruiting, as Georgia Tech hasn’t constantly been a risk regardless of some stretches of success. Georgia provides robust lecturers, a enjoyable school city and a robust custom of manufacturing NFL gamers.

Nonetheless, the record of nationwide championship winners since 1980 consists of virtually each main program surrounding Georgia however Georgia — Clemson, Alabama, Florida State, Florida, Miami, Tennessee, and, after all, rivals Auburn and Georgia Tech. Georgia’s failure to win a title places this system in a tier of its personal.

TIER II: The I-10 Tier

Texas A&M, UCLA, Texas

Texas A&M: Texas A&M would not take pleasure in fairly as many benefits as Georgia, however its lack of championships is likely to be much more stunning. The Aggies have gone twice as lengthy with out successful a nationwide title (1939), and personal only one league title for the reason that Southwest Convention fell aside. Texas A&M can throw cash at every little thing, as evidenced by coach Jimbo Fisher’s $75 million assured contract and its glowing amenities in Faculty Station. There isn’t any main program positioned nearer to Houston, a high nationwide recruiting space. Fisher undoubtedly has the workforce on a promising trajectory, as Texas A&M completed No. 4 in 2020. Nevertheless it marked solely the Aggies’ second top-five end since 1939. Texas A&M had just one AP top-10 end between 1994 and final yr.

UCLA: If there was a SimCFB sport, you may construct UCLA, a high public college with a broad and highly effective custom of athletic success, positioned in one of many nicest elements of Los Angeles. Anybody who has walked UCLA’s campus in Westwood is aware of that the place sells itself. And but UCLA hasn’t gained a convention title in 23 years! The Bruins have solely two Pac-12 division championships, one AP top-10 end and 0 New 12 months’s Six bowl appearances through the span. There was some laziness concerned, as UCLA till just lately had a few of the worst amenities within the Energy 5. The shortage of an on-campus stadium hurts, however UCLA additionally performs its dwelling video games on the Rose Bowl, not some soulless NFL venue. Apart from a stretch below coach Terry Donahue within the Eighties, UCLA hasn’t been a constantly related program.

Texas: I initially had Texas within the “lost-glory” tier of underachievers, however the Longhorns actually belong right here, alongside their previous associates, the Aggies. Texas owns a nationwide title in considerably latest reminiscence (2005), and truly gained league titles throughout this millennium (2005, 2009). However the prolonged runs of mediocrity each earlier than and after coach Mack Brown’s tenure improve Texas’ standing as an underachiever. The workforce has only one 10-win season since 2009, and has but to make the CFP. Like UCLA, Texas is an elite public establishment in an important location. Not like UCLA, Texas is not missing for assets and carries one of the crucial highly effective manufacturers in school sports activities. Texas is undeniably a top-five job. Whereas additionally a fancy job, Texas has no excuse to not win at a a lot increased stage than it has been.

TIER III: Location, location, location

Nicely-located colleges that may’t break via.

North Carolina, Arizona State, Maryland

North Carolina: Mack Brown’s return to Chapel Hill has helped UNC flash its potential once more — curiously sufficient, Brown is the one coach to pry two applications on this record (North Carolina, Texas) out of underachiever standing — however he cannot erase the previous 20 years. UNC is a basketball faculty and at all times will likely be, however soccer needs to be a lot stronger there, given the native recruiting space, the enchantment of the college and even a few of its hoops connections such because the Jordan Model. No convention titles since 1980 and just one ACC Coastal Division title is unacceptable. North Carolina has solely two AP Prime 25 finishes since 1997, which marked its final top-10 end within the ultimate yr of Brown’s first go-round as coach.

Arizona State: Within the Seventies, Arizona State emerged as school soccer’s latest Western energy, recording 5 AP top-13 finishes, 5 Fiesta Bowl wins and a No. 2 ultimate rating in 1975 below coach Frank Kush. ASU recorded No. 4 finishes in 1986 and 1996, however no top-10s since and solely 4 ballot finishes since 1997 (none previously six years). Regardless of an interesting location in a rising metropolis, elevated assets and a large pupil physique/alumni community, ASU stays the sleeping big that may’t actually get up. The Solar Devils have not gained a league title since 2007 and personal just one South Division title (2013). Apart from consecutive 10-win seasons in 2013 and 2014, they have not gained greater than eight video games since 2007.

Maryland: Anybody who follows recruiting is aware of in regards to the DMV — D.C., Maryland, Virginia — and the expertise it produces yearly. Maryland is the closest main program to the DMV area, positioned proper exterior the Washington metropolis limits, and has had little bother recruiting over time. However the Terrapins have only one convention title since 1985, just one AP Prime 25 end since 2003 and no top-10 finishes since 1976. Apart from a 31-8 stretch below coach Ralph Friedgen from 2001 to 2003, Maryland has eclipsed seven wins simply 3 times since 1985. Maryland is a basketball-first faculty and has not invested sufficient in soccer till just lately. However a college positioned so near a serious expertise hub ought to ship extra success.

TIER IV: Misplaced-glory colleges

Former nationwide powerhouses turned underachievers.

Miami, Michigan, USC, Nebraska, Tennessee

Miami: For greater than 20 years, Miami was among the many most dominant applications in school soccer, capturing 5 nationwide titles. The Hurricanes recorded 15 AP top-10 finishes (12 top-five finishes) between 1981 and 2003. However this system has declined sharply since getting into the ACC in 2004, regardless of being in a division reverse longtime rival Florida State and rising energy Clemson. Miami hasn’t gained an ACC championship and owns just one Coastal Division title (2017). The Hurricanes have simply six AP Prime 25 finishes within the ACC and 0 top-10 finishes. Miami continues to be positioned in one of many nation’s high recruiting areas, and this system has thrived at occasions in that space. There are some limitations with amenities and different areas, however Miami completely needs to be competing for ACC titles on a extra common foundation.

Michigan: Though Michigan did not contend nationally as typically as Miami did within the Eighties and early Nineties, the Wolverines recorded eight AP top-eight finishes between 1983 and 1992, and gained or shared seven Huge Ten titles between 1982 and 1992. Michigan gained a nationwide title in 1997 and had 5 top-10 finishes between 1997 and 2006. However this system has turn out to be more and more much less aggressive nationally and even within the Huge Ten, the place it hasn’t gained a championship since 2004. The Wolverines have dropped eight straight video games to Ohio State and overwhelmed the Buckeyes simply as soon as since 2003. Michigan nonetheless prints cash, carries a nationwide model and performs within the nation’s largest stadium. Though the previous twenty years have widened the hole between Michigan and nationwide elites like Ohio State, the Wolverines needs to be acting at the next stage.

USC: Not like others on this tier, USC owns a nationwide title throughout this millennium, in addition to a latest convention title in 2017. The Trojans gained the Pac-12 South Division throughout a shortened 2020 season, and completed No. 3 with a Rose Bowl championship in 2016. However USC is likely one of the nation’s most storied applications, positioned centrally in among the finest recruiting markets. The Trojans have but to make the Faculty Soccer Playoff and just lately have misplaced floor to Oregon within the Pac-12. Like Texas, USC has made just one actually profitable teaching rent (Pete Carroll), in addition to a number of administrative missteps. However USC has extra inherent benefits than virtually some other program, together with a number of SEC powers. The Trojans needs to be constant nationwide gamers.

Nebraska: For many years, Nebraska was school soccer’s final overachiever, successful 5 nationwide titles and 16 convention titles between 1970 and 1997, regardless of taking part in in a sparsely populated Midwestern state. From 1969 to 2001, the Huskers completed each season ranked, and completed exterior the top-15 solely twice through the historic run. Whereas such success probably was unsustainable given the modifications within the sport, Nebraska had the substances (cash, amenities, successful custom, loyal followers) to stay a nationally related program and constant league title contender. However after reaching three league title video games in two conferences between 2009 and 2012, Nebraska has cratered, going 49-47 previously eight seasons with 4 straight dropping campaigns getting into the autumn. A lot of Nebraska’s recent issues are covered here, however Huskers followers definitely deserve higher.

Tennessee: The Vols completed within the AP top-10 each season from 1995 to 1999, together with a nationwide championship in 1998. They completed exterior the AP top-15 simply as soon as between 1989 and 1999, and recorded a No. 4 end in 2001. Though Tennessee lacked the direct recruiting benefits of a few of its SEC rivals, this system had custom, a large stadium and extra attributes to draw prospects to Knoxville. Constant top-10 finishes appeared considerably unlikely, however Tennessee projected as a Prime 25 program. As a substitute, the Vols have completed ranked simply twice since 2007, which additionally marked their ultimate 10-win season. Making issues extra painful is the truth that Tennessee’s high rivals, Florida and Alabama, have mixed for eight nationwide titles since 2006.

Tier V: The Group of 5

Miami (Ohio), Houston, East Carolina

Miami (Ohio): The Mid-American Convention is delightfully unpredictable. Six completely different groups have gained championships previously six years, together with Miami (Ohio) in 2019. Applications equivalent to Northern Illinois, Toledo, Central Michigan and Ohio have had constant runs of success. However ask coaches to establish the very best job within the MAC and the reply is sort of at all times Miami, a program wealthy in custom (“Cradle of Coaches”) with robust assets and a real school surroundings. Miami has had its moments — league titles in 2019 and 2010, a No. 10 AP end in 2003 behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a 10-win season in 1998 — but additionally prolonged stretches of mediocrity or poor play. Since 2004, Miami has eclipsed six wins simply twice, whereas posting 5 seasons of two wins or fewer (not counting 2020). Miami needs to be the MAC workforce creating probably the most regional and nationwide buzz, however this system is usually neglected.

Houston: There is a cause Houston retains surfacing as a Huge 12 growth candidate (most just lately at a Texas state senate listening to). It is a big college in a serious metropolis and high recruiting market. Houston has invested enormously in athletics and particularly in soccer. What number of Group of 5 applications may lure away a sitting Energy 5 coach (Dana Holgorsen) not on the recent seat? Houston has loads of benefits that ought to put this system on the very high of the Group of 5. However apart from temporary however profitable runs below Kevin Sumlin and Tom Herman, and three straight top-20 groups from 1988 to 1990, Houston has been common at finest. Houston logged solely three successful seasons between 1991 and 2005. Whereas this system has been comparatively stable since 2006, Houston is simply 31-27 since 2016 and solely 7-13 below Holgorsen. The outcomes aren’t matching the funding.

East Carolina: Those that have visited Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium when ECU soccer is rolling know it is among the finest school soccer environments on the East Coast. ECU boasts a big and dependable fan base, albeit one which feels discouraged by latest outcomes. Nonetheless, this system is positioned in a stable recruiting space, and has established its personal true identification, separate from the ACC colleges within the state. However apart from a stable run from 2006 to 2014, when ECU averaged 7.8 wins with one 10-win marketing campaign in 2013, this system has struggled to interrupt via. The Pirates have logged six consecutive dropping seasons getting into 2021, their longest prolonged downturn for the reason that mid-Eighties. However ECU additionally hasn’t strung collectively greater than 4 successful seasons for the reason that Seventies. The AAC transfer has been robust however ECU needs to be higher.

Tier VI: Stunned

Merely making bowl video games is a problem.

Illinois, Syracuse, Cal

Illinois: Within the final 20 years, Illinois has made a Sugar Bowl (2001 season), a Rose Bowl (2007 season) … and performed little or no else. This system is loaded with custom — Crimson Grange, Dick Butkus, Jim Grabowski, Dana Howard and others — and has underrated help at a basketball-leaning faculty. Illinois is a superb faculty with entry to Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Louisville. Nobody expects Illinois to turn out to be Ohio State, and even Wisconsin and Iowa aren’t real looking fashions. However Illinois needs to be making the postseason extra typically than 5 occasions previously 19 seasons.

Syracuse: There’s real soccer custom at Syracuse, which gained a nationwide title in 1959 and, after a long term of independence, three consecutive Huge East titles from 1996 to 1998. Syracuse recorded 9 AP Prime 25 finishes between 1987 and 2001, didn’t report a dropping season through the stretch, and performed in two Fiesta Bowls, an Orange Bowl, a Sugar Bowl and a Peach Bowl. Since 2001, the Orange have appeared in solely 5 bowl video games and had postseason droughts of 5 years and 4 years. They personal just one AP Prime 25 end through the stretch, of their solely season with greater than eight wins (10-3 in 2018). Syracuse is a basketball faculty not positioned close to many high recruiting markets, however this system may obtain greater than it has these days.

Cal: This one cuts deep for me, as I fell in love with school soccer at Cal video games within the Nineties and even was a season-ticket holder for a number of years. Like UCLA, Cal is an elite public faculty in a state filled with soccer gamers and positioned in a serious market. Like UCLA, Cal lengthy uncared for its program financially and nonetheless struggles with assets/funding. Cal has some distant historical past of success, together with three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances and AP top-five finishes from 1948 to 1950. However the faculty would make solely two bowl video games through the subsequent 4 a long time earlier than a renaissance within the early Nineties. Cal had a stable stretch below Jeff Tedford, reaching seven consecutive bowls from 2003 to 2009 with two 10-win seasons. However since then they’ve made solely 4 bowls and logged seven dropping seasons.

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